In the outer limits of our solar system there is a planet unlike any other, Pluto. Pluto was discovered in February of 1930 by an American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh. It is the only planet to have been discovered by an American. All though we have known of the existence of Pluto for over thirty years now, there are still many mysteries surrounding this celestial body. Being the farthest planet has made it difficult to study Pluto, Adding to the obscurity of this strange planet is that the capability to send spacecraft such distances has never been achieved. Through the wonders of science and astronomy, there are many things that can be determined, concluded, and hypothesized about this obscure planet.
Pluto’s discovery was actually a fortunate accident. Clyde Tombaugh was searching for a ninth planet to explain inconsistencies in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Once further research was done regarding Pluto it was determined that the size of Pluto was too small to account for the irregularities of the orbits. Astronomers continued to search for a tenth planet, “Planet X.” The calculations that made scientists to believe this have since been proven incorrect by the Voyager 2. With the more accurate mass of Neptune that Voyager 2 was able to produce, the discrepancies of the orbit were explained. It is no longer believed that there is a tenth planet.
Since it’s discovery, the legitimacy of Pluto as actually being a planet, has long been debated. The numerous irregularities found when studying Pluto, coupled with its miniscule size has made it the object of controversy. For a while it was believed that Pluto could have possibly been another moon of the planet Neptune. This was often believed due to similarities between Pluto and the Neptune moon Triton. Triton and Pluto have similar surface and atmospheric properties, both being of near equal temperatures. Many believe that Triton was also once independent from Neptune, and that Triton, like Pluto, came from the Kuiper Belt explaining such relations. Also, both Pluto and Triton have very unusual orbits which does lead some to believe that there is a cosmic connection between the two.
Upon ruling out the possibility of Pluto being another moon of Neptune, Pluto was then classified by the International Astronomical Union ...

... middle of paper ...

... it greatly differs from the Earth’s distance of 147.5 kilometers from the sun at perihelion. Astronomers can best study Pluto when it is at perihelion, unfortunately, it only happens once in its 248.8 year orbit.
As we continue to extend out reach to the outer solar system, we are constantly learning more and more about Pluto. While the information that astronomers have is limited, every piece helps them to make further hypothesis about the planet. In just a short time Astronomers have been able to make great leaps gathering information to better understand Pluto. Hopefully, with continued space travel and research, we can continue to learn about the unusual planet.


• IAU press release from January 1999. “The status of Pluto: A clarification

More about Pluto

Get Access